Woods Bay State Natural Area, SC   Edward Frank
  Jul 31, 2005 17:47 PDT 

On the road map within about five miles of my route was a site marked
“Woods Bay Natural Area.” I am not sure what is there but it is a South Carolina
Park. I stopped at the visitor information booth at the South Carolina
Border. One leaflet had it listed, but didn’t say anything more. I could
not decide whether or not to stop. Eventually as I got nearer I pulled off
the interstate. There was a road sign there saying Woods Bay State Park. That
decided for me, I was going. Back a few miles on roads, wondering if I
missed a sign or a turn-off I came to the park sign. Back a short road was
a parking area. Nobody else was here. There was a sign indicating there
was a two dollar fee for this day use area. I still didn’t know what was
here, but paid the money and took my chance.

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The interpretive sign explained that Carolina bays are modest sized
elliptical depressions of unknown origins found throughout the southeastern
coastal plain. The Woods Bay geological depression was about 1500 acres in
size. There was a visitors center at the park, but it was closed. The
signs indicated a nature trail and a boardwalk trail. Just beyond the
parking area was the beginning of the boardwalk. It formed a snaky trail
extending back into a swamp about five feet wide and a foot above the
water. No guard rails. This was what a swamp was supposed to look like.
Bald cypress with their bold flaring bases grew out of murky water. A
short distance down the boardwalk, lying among the swamp grass, ten feet from
the trail was an alligator. It wasn’t very big perhaps 5 feet long, but it
was a real alligator! Another one was behind some bushes nearby. After
taking photos I continued down the trail. Really pretty swamp scenes were
everywhere. The boardwalk extended a total distance of around 1000 feet
into the swamp and ended in a viewing/fishing platform. As I started back I
could hear some other people on the boardwalk. Then a sharp splash and a
girl squealed. One of the gators had splashed and dove into the water. I
joined the couple and we could pick out the two gators. She said she had
never seen an alligator in the wild before and was startled by the movement.

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There also is a nature trail here that circumnavigates an overgrown
abandoned mill pond. The trail follows around the raised edge of the
pond, but there is so much brush growing in the water it was difficult to
see more than a few feet into its interior. There were signs around the
trail describing the lizards found in the bay, anoles and skinks, snakes,
common water snakes and water moccasins, and some of the mammals in the
area. When I finished the nature trail a church group, I think, had
arrived with 8 to 10 younger kids and were playing in the picnic area. I
walked back down to the boardwalk to take some additional pictures. I
spotted another larger alligator near the beginning of the boardwalk, but
the two I had found earlier had disappeared. 

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When coming back out the
boardwalk the group led by a adult man and a gaggle of kids were on the
boardwalk. They ask about the alligators I had seen and I pointed out the
one near the beginning of the trail. There were lots of oohs and aahs, but
no one wanted to wrestle the alligator so I could get good pictures. A
little farther back in along the boardwalk they spotted another alligator,
probably one of the first two I had seen. The gentleman took them to the
end of the boardwalk and had them all be quiet so they could listen to the
sounds of nature in the swamp. They returned shortly after having seen
some of the natural world up close and personal. This was certainly a
worthwhile stop on my journey.

July 08, 2005   Edward Frank


Some additional information on the Bay can be found at the following links:


Carolina Bays in the Francis Marion National Forest, South Carolina
Southern USDA Forest Service, 06/11/2002

Carolina Bays have been a source of fascination for visitors to the
lowcountry of South Carolina since the time of their discovery. They are
fragile and unique ecosystems: wetland habitats that exhibit a variety of
vegetative components. Some bays are open-water depressions dotted with
pondcypress trees and rimmed by pitcher plants and sundew. Some bays are
thick pocosins of shrubby sweet bay, fetterbush and pond pines. They can be
1 acre or thousands of acres. Carolina Bays are symmetrical. They are
generally oval depressions and the long axis always runs from northwest to
southeast. The geological origin of these wetlands remains a mystery.

Only about 200 of South Carolina’s original 2,600 natural bays have
remained in their pristine state. Many have fallen victim to drainage and
clearing. There are about 25 well-defined Carolina Bays on the Francis
Marion National Forest. The map shows some of the Carolina Bays that can
be explored on the forest. All of the bays on the forest are protected.

Some of the unique plant and animals to discover include:

* Amphibians
* Blueflas
* Carnivorous plants: trumpet pitcher plant and sundew
* Pond pine
* Pond cypress
* Songbirds


woodsbaylitho.jpg (54185 bytes)

http://www.ces.clemson.edu/scmaps/cartography/WoodsBayLitho.html (infrared
air photo)


Of all the landforms in South Carolina that have aroused the curiosity of
both geologists and local residents, Carolina Bays are at the top of the
list. Woods Bay was selected as the Carolina Bay study site because it is
the largest Bay preserved in a near-pristine condition and also because it
is one of the most easily accessible, being located just south of
Interstate Highway 95 on the border of Clarendon, Florence, and Sumter
counties. In the 1920's, most of the cypress trees were logged, and
tramways were laid over swampy areas to allow timber to be hauled out. In
1971, logging companies were prevented from repeating the harvest when
Woods Bay was made a state park. It contains both swampland areas and
grassy savanna areas, as well as pine barrens along its sand rim. A
cypress-tupelo community dominates the interior of the Bay, while longleaf
pines cover the drier rims. Woods Bay stands in sharp contrast with nearby
Dials Bay, which was drained for agricultural use. The park is a refuge
for many varieties of birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, as well as
to a host of rare and specialized plants.



Woods Bay State Natural Area offers a close-up look at the unique geology
of the Carolina bays of the Atlantic coastal plain, along with the mystery
and diverse ecology of a southern cypress-tupelo swamp.

Habitats at 1,540-acre Woods Bay also include marsh, sand hills,
oak-hickory forest and a shrub bog. More than 75 species of mammals,
reptiles and amphibians are found here, along with more than 150 species of
birds, changing with the seasons.

Visitors enjoy canoeing, fishing, walking, hiking and photography on the
500-foot boardwalk, canoe trail and nature trail.

Woods Bay was registered as a Heritage Trust Site in 1981 for its
outstanding example of a Carolina bay.



Five pages of photo galleries
Woods Bay Natural Area, South Carolina

RE: Woods Bay State Natural Area, SC   Willard Fell
  Aug 01, 2005 06:48 PDT 


That was a fascinating account of your visit to Woods Bay up in South
Carolina. South Carolina has an excellent program of preserving sites
with their Heritage Preserve program. They have acquired dozens of sites
and Woods Bay is just one of them.


Carolina Bays occur on the Coastal Plain from NJ south to Florida, but
reach their pinnacle in the Carolinas. In several areas they become the
dominate landform such as in the Cape Fear River drainage southeast of
Fayetteville NC in the Bladen Lakes area. Eastern NC and Northeastern SC
have an abundance of fascinating ecological features such as Carolina
Bays, Pocosins, Boiling springs and Marl forests. If you ever get the
chance to get off the interstate they are well worth the visit. They
rival any thing southwest FL has to offer in wildness and diversity of

car_bays.jpg (38789 bytes)

I've attached a greatly reduced CIR aerial of an area in Screven County
GA where Carolina bays are a dominate landform feature. This area is
bisected by Hwy 301 just south of the Burton's Ferry Bridge on the
Savannah River.